Note to my readers: This is not exactly a “note from the studio” or explicitly about my “tai chi journey.” It is about an experience from my childhood that continues to resonate. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Fishing with Dad on Opening Day

This story is about spring rituals and a resonant memory from my childhood. It was on an Easter Sunday that coincided with the Opening Day of fishing season that my father took me and my brother Jon to Verona Park. Getting out on opening day of fishing season is a spring ritual for many fishing enthusiasts. In 1965 I would have been seven years old and my brother Jon would have been five going on six. As the two oldest of the four Brooks children at the time–my youngest sister would come along in 1970– it was a special treat to accompany our dad on one of his favorite activities. A wood shop teacher by trade, my father Jack loved the out-of-doors. He had to know that bringing two young kids fishing meant some noise and chatter but the outing was never just about fishing–he was taking time to do something special with us and maybe giving our mom a bit of a break too.

Creature Comforts

Going fishing, or on any outing with my father for that matter, meant taking care of creature comforts. My dad loved food and he loved his coffee. And although we weren’t exactly going to a remote location–Verona Park was only five miles from our house–it still required a coffee stop. But I was surprised when my dad came out of the little store at the intersection of Pleasant Valley Way and Eagle Rock Avenue with three cups and not just one. He was carrying styrofoam cups of steaming hot cocoa for me and my brother Jonny along with the cup of coffee for himself, light and sweet the way he liked it. So on this chilly April morning we were now prepared–warm layers of clothes and a cup of cocoa to wrap our hands around. We were ready!

Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church, Verona, NJ

Nature and the spiritual experience

Each of us has memories that encapsulate what we cherish about our upbringing and this fishing trip with my dad is one of them. My dad often said that a nature walk was his way of connecting to that something beyond himself, what we might call a spiritual experience.

As we neared the park entrance we passed by Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church. I looked out the car window and saw a steady stream of children and adults walking down the sidewalk by the church. They were wearing fancy hats and colorful spring outfits, and I was fascinated. I wondered aloud why they were so dressed up and my dad said it was Easter Sunday. In that moment, I suddenly felt like a rebel. Never mind that we were a Jewish family, albeit non-observant.

Next thing you know there I was, sitting beside Verona lake with my little brother and my dad, watching my fishing line. I remember that it was cold enough to see my breath! Thankfully, my dad put the wriggly earthworm on the hook because I didn’t have the heart to do it. I imagine he helped my little brother Jon too. As I sat staring at the lake, hoping to feel a tug on my line, I sipped the burning hot cocoa. Gazing at the water, the sky, and anything else that caught my eye, I felt a calm and peace settle in. It might have been an early experience of meditation although I had no words for it at the time.

vintage postcard, Verona Lake, NJ

In case you were wondering…we didn’t catch any fish!

We did not catch any fish on that April morning but it didn’t really matter to me. Remembering back to that Easter Sunday of my childhood, the security and calm I felt in my father’s presence was the real treasure. Recalling that morning from my childhood reminds me that spirituality is something to be discovered. It is not something we receive like a lesson or sacrament. In that chilly April morning I felt so much joy. I was excited for the adventure of going fishing on a cold Spring morning, for time spent with my father, and for nature itself. And even though Verona Lake was originally a wetlands that was dammed to create a body of water, with it’s lovely bridge and paths along the shoreline, it served as a tame introduction to the wilder world. Interestingly, even as of 2020, the state was still stocking Verona Lake with trout.

Robin and her father Jack in Narragansett, Rhode Island, ca. 1977, photo credit: Nancy DiPadua

Coda: Missing Dad

My dad has been gone now for twenty-seven years. He passed away in the early morning hours on Easter Sunday in 1997. His death came just two weeks after my son Ben, his first grandchild, was born. Although I miss my father a lot, I can still feel his presence in my life. And while I no longer go fishing–I still don’t like the whole worm thing– I credit some of my passion for the natural world to my father.

revised, March 31, 2024